New Delhi: Sharing the dais with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Monday made a stunning allegation -- that the phones of judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts were being tapped. Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad strongly denied the allegation.
Kejriwal, in his address at the 50th anniversary celebration of Delhi High Court here, said if allegations of tapping were true, then it would be tantamount to the biggest assault on independence of the judiciary.
With Modi, Delhi Lt Governor Najeeb Jung, and Chief Justice of India T.S. Thakur among others seated on the dias, Kejriwal, who spoke first, focused most of his around 10-minute speech on the issue of phone tapping. He also questioned the Centre's delay in implementing the Supreme Court Collegium's recommendations for filling up vacancies in the courts.
Kejriwal said during his conversation with some judges he "heard" two judges telling each other not to talk over the phone "because the phones are being tapped".
"When I said that this cannot happen, they said from the Supreme Court to the High Court and District Courts, all of the judges' phones are being tapped," said the Chief Minister, who has attacked the Central government, especially the Prime Minister, on a number of occasions for allegedly trying to clip the wings of his government.
"I don't know if this (phone tapping) is true, but if it is true, then this is very dangerous. In such a scenario all the judges can be influenced. Even if a judge has indulged in any wrong doing, even that doesn't justify phone tapping. Other means can be used to gather evidence against them," said Kejriwal, leading to loud murmurs among the audience.
"Independence of judiciary is paramount. If true, phone tapping would be the biggest assault on the independence of judiciary," he said.
On the alleged delay in filling up judicial appointments, he said the delay is "giving rise to rumours". "There are rumours that only because certain minister's (preferred) men will not be given the opportunity, the Centre is not implementing the recommendations - and similar such rumours. Such rumours are dangerous for democracy."
"Even 001 per cent of executive interference is not good for judiciary. Since executive is very, very powerful, an independent judiciary is paramount for keeping checks and balances," said Kejriwal.
He also called for a law to ensure implementation of the Collegium's recommendations within 48 hours after they are sent to the Centre, as well as codifying the relation between the executive and the judiciary.
Jung, who spoke next and has been in a running battle with the Chief Minister, did not refer to Kejriwal's speech during his brief address.
Union Minister Prasad, whose turn was next, categorically denied Kejriwal's claims of phone tapping and asserted that the Modi government is committed towards independence of the judiciary.
"I don't want to join an issue today, but I have to put the record straight. I have been the Communication Minister for more than two years and wish to deny with all command and authority that phones of judges were tapped," said Prasad.
Taking on Kejriwal, Prasad asserted that independence of judiciary was "unimpeachable and uncompromisable".
"Right from Prime Minister Modi to other ministers like Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj and myself, we have fought against the Emergency for upholding three freedoms - of individual, media and judiciary.
"So as the Law Minister let me categorically declare the Modi government's commitment towards independence of the judiciary. It is absolute and complete. The independence of judiciary is unimpeachable and uncompromisable," added Prasad.
Modi, who spoke last, stressed on the need to reduce the backlog of cases pending before the judiciary. He also emphasised on the need to rope in the best of talents while drafting Indian laws and said it could be the biggest service to the country's judiciary.
The Prime Minister called for the inclusion of people from the lower strata of society into judiciary. As the (central) government is the biggest litigant in the country, he had asked his government to not enter into unnecessary litigation, he said.
On Friday, the Supreme Court had rapped the Centre for sitting on the top court Collegium's recommendations on the appointment of judges to various high courts. The government's inaction amounted to paralysing and locking out the judiciary, the apex court observed.
CJI Thakur, who spoke after Prasad, welcomed Kejriwal's move of assuring his government's support in improving infrastructure and recruitment of more judges in courts.
He said Delhi High Court has given four CJIs and 27 other judges to the Supreme Court. One of the judges of the Supreme Court, Justice Dalveer Bhandari, has been appointed in the International Court of Justice.
Delhi HC Chief Justice G. Rohini said the court has been a pioneer in the field of computerisation and adoption of digital processes. "We have 10 courts that function as e-courts and so far there have been 45,430 e-filings. It is a modern court uniquely poised to take on the future."
Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi at the 50th Anniversary function of establishment of the High Court of Delhi, in New Delhi on October 31, 2016. The Chief Justice of India, Shri Justice T.S. Thakur, the Lt. Governor of Delhi, Shri Najeeb Jung, the Union Minister for Electronics & Information Technology and Law & Justice, Shri Ravi Shankar Prasad and the Chief Minister of Delhi, Shri Arvind Kejriwal are also seen.